Thousands visit the tiny town of West Branch, Iowa, each year to learn about President Herbert Hoover’s early years and his contributions as President of the United States. Those that venture farther down Main Street encounter an unexpected bonus: a winery.
Ilene Lande and John McNutt opened their cozy tasting room in March of 2010, following some unexpected building renovation challenges.
Ilene grew up in Webster City, Iowa, and attended the University of Iowa beginning in 1969. (Except for a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in Dallas, she has always lived in Iowa.) She earned BS and PhD degrees in Microbiology/Immunology, was involved in basic biomedical research for 10 years, and then started a small biotechnology company, Elmira Biologicals Inc., in 1988.
John was born in Iowa City and raised on a farm a few miles from town. He farmed with his father, Paul McNutt, for 27 years before leaving his allergies behind to change careers. Since 2000, he has been using his BS in Ag Econ (from Iowa State) and MBA (University of Iowa) as a business management consultant at Latta, Harris, Hanon & Penningroth in Tipton, Iowa.
Ilene and John were married in 1980, and still live in the farmhouse that John’s great-grandfather built in 1908.
In 2005, they partnered with Ed, Melody and Joan Wallace to start Wallace Winery, near West Branch. After five years of joint effort, the partners decided to part ways, so and John and Ilene looked for a new location for their own wine production and tasting room.
That led them to West Branch, where they acquired the town’s historic 1907 Post Office with the intention of transforming it into Brick Arch Winery. But during construction, the building collapsed, forcing Ilene and John to start from square one.
They set about rebuilding the iconic structure, and created an elegant space that offers not only wine tasting, but also beer tasting and “small plates.” The on-site “Brick Bistro” came about because so many visitors told the owners, “I wish you served more food.”
The Bistro serves fresh, hand-made dishes on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. and on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4. Each week’s menu includes two or three choices of flat-bread pizza, the Brick’s nachos, and one or two additional main courses and desserts. The specifics of the “fresh menu” are published each week on the winery’s website .
Brick Arch Winery sources grapes from all over the Upper Mississippi Valley, and Lande crafts an array of both dry and sweet varietal wines and blends. There’s even a sparkling wine in the lineup.
The winery also hosts music performances on most weekends in its comfortable performance space, so if you want to make a weekend of it, there’s more to do in West Branch than simply touring the Hoover museum and historic site.
If you find yourself traveling in Iowa, a stop at Brick Arch Winery is a great way to break up the drive. It’s open daily beginning at 12 noon.